I Left My Heart in the Appalachians

As some of you know, my husband & I went to college in the mountains of southwest Virginia & lived there for another year after I graduated & while he finished up his master’s degree.  We then moved to Raleigh so that he could get a job in his field (genetics).  At first I felt a little overwhelmed living in such a “big” city, but I quickly adapted, & it didn’t take long for me to realize that moving here was definitely a great decision for us.

However, there are still times when I really miss the mountains.  Today is one of those times.  I’ve often said if I could just take everything about Raleigh & transplant it about two hours west (roughly where Winston-Salem is), it would truly be the ideal place to live.


Quite possibly my favorite place in the whole world: Grayson Highlands State Park in SW VA

To be clear, there are so many things I really love about Raleigh, especially as a place to raise our future children.  I love that this is such a multi-cultural area where both my husband & I work with people from literally all over the world.  I love that because of the multiculturalism around here we have so many different options for types of ethnic restaurants, everything from Mexican, Chinese, & Italian to more exotic choices like Indian, Lebanese, Caribbean, Thai, Vietnamese, & Ethiopian.  I love that despite being home to half a million people (plus another half million in the surrounding county, not to mention Durham & Chapel Hill), the traffic around here is really quite manageable, especially if your job, like mine, permits you to miss most of rush hour.  Though housing is certainly more expensive than where we grew up, I’ve been pleased to find that this is still a very reasonable place to live as far as cost of living goes.  It’s not like groceries & gas cost more here than they do in the rural areas of NC.  I also love that there are so many colleges around here, two of which have great associated hospitals & medical/nursing programs (Duke & UNC). raleigh skyline

Furthermore, I am grateful that there are so many different educational opportunities for children in this area.  There are over a dozen high schools in Wake County, & that doesn’t even include the private ones!  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many elementary schools there must be.  There are two on the main road off of which we live, & a third one is being built as I write this!  As someone who grew up in a county with one primary, one elementary, one middle, & one high school, at the risk of sounding like a country bumpkin, I have to admit this profusion of schools still blows my mind a bit!  But the point of all this is that if we have kids here they will have the opportunity to attend year-round schools (which I actually think is a terrific idea) & to participate in orchestra & all kinds of extracurricular activities that simply did not exist where my husband & I grew up.  Additionally, upon purchasing our house, I was thrilled to discover that lots of children in this area still play outside, even in the streetsThere are even kids & teens who walk to school here!  And it isn’t just because they’re poor & their families don’t own cars. Amazing!

diverse kids

It’s normal to see groups of kids of different races playing together here.  I love it.

I could go on & on, but for the sake of time I’ll wrap up my treatise on Raleigh by saying that another reason I love this city so much is the sense of anonymity it gives me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a solid introvert but I love being able to go the grocery store or Wal-Mart or the mall (actually there are half a dozen malls I can go to in this area so I really shouldn’t say THE mall) & almost never run into a soul I know.  Perhaps this sounds awful, but the idea of having to talk to half the people I run into in the store because I “know” them just sounds miserable, & I can tell you for a fact that would be the case if I lived in my hometown or a similar place.  (If you don’t believe that small towns can be suffocating, allow me to share a story one of my cousins told me about shopping in our hometown Kroger.  She was there purchasing a rather large quantity of potatoes & ran into a distant cousin.  Within an hour or two her mother was calling her to ask why she was buying so many potatoes!  Yes, word gets around that fast, even about something as mundane as potatoes!)  On the other hand, Raleigh is a small enough city that I can & do recognize many of the employees at my preferred grocery store & the handful of local restaurants that I frequent. But it’s not like these people actually know me & feel the need to inquire about the details of my life every time they see me; nor do I feel beholden to actually tell them anything significant about my life.

Sign reads: 'Small town ahead - don't believe a word you heard.'

Despite all of these benefits, there are days when I really do miss the mountains.  It’s the landscape itself that I miss more than anything. There is just something about the Appalachians that is unspeakably beautiful & that never grows old.  I miss living where I could go on a dozen beautiful hikes within an easy hour or less drive.  And I miss knowing that everywhere I go, even some place as mundane as the grocery store, would have a beautiful backdrop of mountains in the background.


Yes, it’s Grayson Highlands again.

I’m not saying I want to move; I definitely don’t.  I just wish the mountains were a wee bit closer.  I think what it comes down to is I’m just an odd person because I love the multiculturalism & the educational opportunities of more urban areas, yet to a certain extent I think I will always feel that “real life” is happening in the rural areas & those of us who “escaped” those areas are just enjoying some added benefits.  Maybe there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to admit that the way I grew up was actually NOT the norm.  Anyway, what it comes down to is I am a well-educated young woman with a bit of a Southern accent that I can’t totally kick on some words (& don’t really want to) who really enjoys music as diverse as Beethoven to Eric Church to Marilyn Manson & food as diverse as pinto beans with cornbread to chicken korma & other Indian delights & who will always think the most fetching thing a man can wear is jeans with a plain white T-shirt or a plaid flannel shirt.  I love trying all different kinds of restaurants, but I’ll always prefer anywhere I can go in jeans & a decent shirt & not be under-dressed.  If I have to truly dress up just to get in the door, forget about it.  Perhaps it’s because of all of these “contradictions” that there is a part of me that always feels a bit like an outsider, no matter where I am.  When I’m visiting my hometown, I know I don’t belong there anymore, but as much as I love living in Raleigh, there is a part of me that still feels like I’m a bit of an outsider here too . . .  The other possibility is of course that I just analyze things far too much.  That is always an option on the table with me, ha!

casual dress cartoon

Ok, this is just funny.

I suppose there isn’t much of a point to this post other than to say I do love Raleigh but there is a part of my heart that is still in the mountains, & I think it will always be there no matter how long I live here.

To the Appalachians, you are where I came into my own, so to speak.  You are where I truly grew up & took that final leap into that scary but wonderful place called adulthood.  You are where I fell in love with hiking & all the glories of exploring nature year round.  There is a possibility I may never live in you again, but you will always, always have a big piece of my heart.    


Sunrise off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC (taken on our vacation last year)

The Evolution From Country Girl to (Sort of) City Girl

In college one of my favorite professors told me I was the most sophisticated person he’d ever met from such a small town.  It seemed like a bit of back-handed compliment but since moving to an urban area I’ve come to understand a bit more of what he meant & why he said that.  In any case, just a few days after moving to Raleigh in the summer of 2012 I sat down & wrote out a list of differences I had noticed since moving to NC.  I called it The NC Learning Curve & posted it on my Facebook.  Since then I’ve revisited that list & realized that most of the things I mentioned had more to do with moving to an urban area rather than simply moving to NC.  Over the past almost two years that we’ve been here in Raleigh, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve adapted to living in a city of over 400,000 people & in a county with one million people.  It’s definitely been an adjustment, but honestly it’s not been nearly as hard as one might expect considering I grew up in a town with a few thousand people, in a county with 4 stop-lights (we have 5 now!) and one high school.  For some reason over the past few weeks I keep having random thoughts in which I stop & realize how much I really have changed since moving here.  Maybe I shouldn’t say how much I have changed because it’s not like living in an urban area has really changed who I am as a person.  But it has changed the experiences I have & how I react to them.

As an aside, if you grew up in an urban or suburban area, you will probably think all of the things I mention here are just normal.  But if you grew up or currently reside in a rural area you will probably understand exactly what I’m saying.

  • In my hometown & again in the NRV (where I attended college & lived for the first year post graduation) seeing a BMW, Jaguar, or Mercedes was cause to stare.  In Raleigh these are all a dime a dozen.  I can often spot a BMW before I even see the logo because there is just a certain look to those cars that I have learned to recognize.  When we first moved here, I remember being shocked that there was a Mazarati dealership here.  Now that I’ve seen some of the mansions around here, I’m not so surprised.BMW
  • One of my favorite parts of this city is its multiculturalism.  It’s impossible to go to the grocery store or really any public place without encountering people from multiple ethnicities & cultures.  It’s very common to hear Spanish, Chinese, or other languages while out in public.  I love it.
  • As a consequence of the above, ethnic restaurants abound here.  It’s nothing like NYC or other major urban centers I’m sure, but you’ll have no trouble finding Mediterranean, Greek, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Mexican, or Indian restaurants around here.  There’s even a new German restaurant in Cary, just outside Raleigh.
  • On the topic of restaurants, I’m pretty sure I could live here for the rest of my life & never eat at every restaurant in this city.  The choices are endless.  My husband & I have found at least a dozen local restaurants that we love but the possibility of trying something new is always fun too.
  • Again on the topic of multiculturalism I now work with people literally from all over the world (& so does my husband).  We love it.  Depending on who’s working, there are some nights when I am in the minority as a white female.  Considering nursing is still a profession very much dominated by white females (about 75% of RNs are white from the statistics I’ve seen recently), this is pretty significant.  The awesome thing is that we all get along very well & learn from each other on a daily basis.
  • Multiculturalism doesn’t just encompass people from other countries.  One of the first things I noticed about Raleigh is that so few people you meet here are actually FROM Raleigh.  Everyone seems to be from somewhere else & this again makes for a very interesting & diverse city.  Of the dozens of people I work with, only a handful actually grew up in this area.  Not only are many of my coworkers from other countries but many are also from the Chicago area, other places in the Midwest, New York, Florida, etc.  The same is true for our neighbors in our community.multicuturalism
  • Perhaps because of the multiculturalism here, interracial dating seems to be very common.  Overall I’m sure most couples in this area are still of the same race, but it is very normal to see interracial couples, especially among younger people here.  I find this very encouraging.
  • A tell-tale sign you’re from a rural area is when you say “We’re going to THE WalMart.”  I used to say this all the time because there was only one WalMart & until 2-3 years ago it was a good 20 minutes away.  In Raleigh there are WalMarts on top of WalMarts.  I rarely go to them anymore to be honest, but I can think of at least 4 within about 15 miles of our house.  And Best Buy?  Good lord, we have probably 8 within 20 minutes of each other (if the traffic isn’t bad).  This is very convenient when a new rock album that I want to purchase comes out because even if only half of the stores are carrying that album I can still find it without too much trouble.
  • I pass 5 Wells Fargos on the way to work which is all of a 12 mile journey.  Three of them are on the same road.   I also pass at least 4 McDonalds, & 2 of them are on the same road.
  • Dentists & chiropractors must grow on trees around here.  They are EVERYWHERE.
  • Seeing trash on the side of the road is a rarity.  This used to the norm anywhere else I’ve ever lived.  I didn’t even realize how bad it was till we moved here & I realized the conspicuous absence of said trash.
  • One of the first things I noticed upon moving to Raleigh was how NICE everyone is.  Whether it’s my patients or their families at the hospital or the employees at Bojangles or the mall, by & large people here are just very nice.  It is rare for me to be out in public & see people yelling at their kids, cursing loudly, or generally creating a scene.  Despite all the time I spend at stop-lights, I almost never hear people playing loud music in their vehicles.  People here dress very nicely also.  I don’t necessarily mean everyone wears fancy or expensive clothes, not hardly.  I just mean that the vast majority of people I see out in public look like they at least got out of their pajamas & took a good look in the mirror before leaving the house.  I’m not trying to call people in other areas trashy or gross.  I’m just saying I’ve noticed a difference in the general population since moving here & I think it’s worth noting.
  • About 2 weeks after moving to Raleigh we returned to the NRV for a friend’s wedding.  I remember getting outside of the city on Interstate 40 & realizing there were only 2 lanes of traffic in each direction.  I looked at my husband & said “I cannot believe I’m saying this but it seems so weird to only have 2 lanes going each way.  Where are all the other lanes?!”  Whereas I used to feel overwhelmed driving on highways with more than 2 lanes, I now feel like this is normal & every time I get on an interstate with only 2 lanes going each way I find myself wondering where all the other lanes are & it takes me a few minutes to adapt.
  • I now think it’s normal to pass 2 elementary schools on the same road & to know that there are over a dozen high schools just in Wake County.  I now realize why all the kids from the Richmond area at band activities used to look at me like I had 3 heads when I told them my county only had one high school.
  • Living in Raleigh I now have the chance to actually attend rock concerts.  Country concerts weren’t difficult to find in Roanoke but rock bands rarely played there.  If I wanted to go to a major rock concert in VA I’d have to travel a good 4-5 hrs to the NOVA/DC area or VA Beach.  Since being in Raleigh I’ve been to 3 rock concerts & seen at least half a dozen of my favorite rock bands.  A lot of the biggest concerts still go to Charlotte but even that is only 3 hrs away.

    shinedown band

    I’ve seen Shinedown in concert twice in Raleigh. They sound incredible live & put on an amazing show.

  • There are at least 4 major malls within 25 minutes of our house, & they are all much bigger than the mall I grew up going to.  Shopping at Crabtree Valley Mall, the biggest one, makes me feel poor.  It’s still a little weird for me to know we’re living in an area where (some) people can actually afford to spend $300 on a pair of jeans or shop at Swarovski for jewelry.  I realize not all of the stores are of that caliber, but obviously there are enough rich people around here to keep those stores in business.  I rarely ever go to the malls here, definitely not on the weekends because they’re much too crowded, but it’s worth nothing that they’re here.
  • I can now visit DC/NOVA & not feel completely out of place.  The traffic up there is still insane & is the major reason I wouldn’t want to live up there, but at least now I don’t feel so overwhelmed while visiting.
  • I still hate crowds which is why Raleigh is perfect for me because it’s an urban area that really feels more like a giant series of suburbs than a true city.  In fact I remember the first time I went to the salon I currently use & one of the employees asked me “Don’t you think Raleigh feels so small?”  I laughed & said “No, to me it’s huge!”  She then went on to explain that she had lived in Chicago for several years before coming to this area, so in light of that I can understand why she might think Raleigh feels small.  For me it is still a “big city” but I now understand that it is quite different than many cities of this size & I love it for that.
  • The farmers market here is amazing!  I can now buy fresh local produce that is actually CHEAPER than the grocery store.  Whenever I went to farmers markets in the NRV, they were very expensive which as a college student & later as a new grad nurse meant they were out of my price range.  It’s a whole different scenario here.  One of our favorite activities from April-October is to go to the farmers market on Saturdays & stock up on produce.  There are also lots of plants, crafts, & other assorted products.  I love Anders Natural Soaps that are based in Raleigh & are sold at the farmers market.  There are also 2 restaurants at the farmers market & they’re both quite good.anders soap

Like I said at the beginning, if you grew up in an urban area you probably take a lot of this stuff for granted.  But those of you who grew up in rural areas know what a different world it really is.   I’m not trying to say that urban areas are inherently better than rural areas.  Different strokes for different folks is one of my greatest mottos in life.  But I for one am loving the urban/suburban life here in Raleigh & I have to say I’m proud of myself for adapting to the lifestyle here.  Coming from such a small town I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment even if it sounds silly to those who have no conception of small-town life.  In any case I thought it was interesting to reflect on the changes in my life since moving here.  Happy Thursday, everyone!

P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, I do still have a slight Southern accent.  Maybe more than slight on certain words, ha!   And I still say countrified phrases like “don’t amount to a hill of beans” every once in a while.   🙂